Saturday, August 01, 2015

Sweetened Condensed Deception

'Tis the season for iced coffee. I have a batch of cold brew going at the moment-- my first in years. Cold coffee was a must when I lived in Downtown Los Angeles. Sometimes I would cold-brew, sometimes I'd use a phin for Vietnamese-style coffee. Always, there would be condensed milk.

When I was in Cambodia in 2013, I noticed a strange thing: it was fairly difficult to find canned sweetened condensed milk that was actually just milk and sugar. In most markets, the "milk" I found all contained palm oil. I've noticed that a lot of markets now carry cans of "sweetened condensed creamer" which are made with nonfat milk, whey powder, and palm oil. One brand has a cow on the label and states that it's organic. Well.

Not only are there various ethical issues with palm oil, it also turns the milk a strange color and consistency. The "creamer" is shinier, thinner, more translucent than real sweetened condensed milk. And it just doesn't taste as good.

So, make sure you read labels. Even products labeled "milk" might contain palm oil.

Thankfully, the brand whose label I find most charming, Longevity Brand, still sticks to the plain old milk and sugar. I love that hermit. And, I assumed that they're owned by Nestle by now, but a quick Wikipedia search revealed that they've actually been owned by a cooperative called Friesland Campina since 1975. Colonialism aside, at least it's a co-op?

Layers and layers of money money money. Now I'm wondering what other Southeast Asian businesses fell to western companies who continue to capitalize (ever-increasingly, as well) on the branding.